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Statewide Candidates Make Their Pitch To Hillsborough County Republicans

May 20, 2018

The Hillsborough County Republican Party held its annual Lincoln Dinner fundraising on Saturday, giving candidates an opportunity to make their pitch to local donors and political operatives.

The dinner opened with a call from a special guest, President Donald Trump. Trump praised Attorney General Pam Bondi who emceed the event, and vowed to come to Tampa.

"I'll be there very soon," he said. "We are doing a big event there in the not too distant future."

Governor Rick Scott was the headline. Scott is finishing his last of two terms in office and is running against U.S. Senator Bill Nelson for his congressional seat.

In his speech, Scott reiterated his campaign pledge to rid Washington of career politicians, and said he wants to bring his jobs program to the Senate. He also touted his record in creating more than one million jobs and cutting taxes by more than $7 billion.

"You want to put food on the table, you want to have a house and all this stuff, but everyone I know wants to have a purpose and it starts with a job," he said.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis are hoping to replace Scott. The two delivered the other featured speeches at the dinner.

Both Putnam and DeSantis seemed to endorse charter school expansion, saying they supported parents' right to choose the best education for their child.

DeSantis also said he is looking to shake up the state Supreme Court if elected and end what he calls "judicial activism" by liberal justices.

"We've had a disastrous Supreme Court for a generation," DeSantis said. "I will be able to appoint judges that are in the mold of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia."

Candidates for lesser-known statewide and Hillsborough County offices were given two minutes at the end of the dinner to introduce themselves to the audience.

Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge and the Republican favorite for Attorney General, took a stab at Democratic candidate Sean Shaw, who recently said he would be an "activist attorney general."

"We saw what happened with (President Barack) Obama when people thought it was their job to start making the law and creating policy," Moody said. "I am a conservative because I believe in the enforcement of the rule of law and defending the Constitution."

Moody is running against Representatives Frank White and Jay Fant. She's been endorsed by 33 county sheriffs and the term-limited Bondi.

State representative Matt Caldwell is seeking to replace gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam as Commissioner of Agriculture. Caldwell told the audience he would make smart transportation policy and limit burdensome regulations.

"The Commissioner of Agriculture is in charge of small businesses in this state and you have to have someone at the top who understands regulators can kill those small businesses with poor decisions."

Caldwell also said that as a cabinet member he would defend the Second Amendment, pointing out that that the Florida Department of Agriculture is in charge of issuing conceal carry permits.

Caldwell is running in a crowded field that includes state Sen. Denise Grimsley, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman and veteran Mike McCalister.

State representative and Ross Spano and former state representative Neil Combee gave impassioned thank you speeches to their supporters. Both are now running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Dennis Ross.